Materials for an Immature Film Aesthetic


Alone/Together places its cards less on the romance between Raf (Enrique Gil) and Tin (Liza Soberano), but on its own conception of what it means to be mature. This exploration of the concept of maturity was deployed in form as if it’s trying something new with very few plot-points that the film has. The film relies a lot with its narrative expositions told in a non-linear manner which intends to make whatever resolution less predictable. But what seemed like a novel attempt on narrative film was exacerbated by its own choices in film-form.

Essentially, the film only follows Tin: the one who is the most exposed in the film. Tin is an art studies graduate from a State University who works part-time as a guide at the National Museum where she gets to know Raf, a medicine major from another university. There’s very little distance in the running time between this encounter and the exposition of the conflict. Their romantic relationship was only placed as a prologue to the main narrative, which happens 5 years later from this plot point.

Tin’s character embodies all the supposed expectations from and stereotypes of the graduates of the State University – that is, in the logic of the film, naïve idealists with high expectations of themselves. It is from this angle that the film tries to extract the conflict of her story: Tin got involved in a corruption case in the organization she was working on just after graduating. The condemnation from her colleagues became the source of her loss of confidence which made her quit her relationship with Raf. The event also became the catalyst for her to supposedly mature. The present narrative involves trying to patch up their relationship behind their respective current partner’s back.

As mentioned earlier, the story I retold above was expressed in the film in a non-linear manner. But the film seems to be concerned with other things than the story. At some point, it tries to call attention to its nonlinearity itself (among other things that it tries to call attention to). It should have been a good opportunity for “experimentation,” but not in the case of Alone/Together. Its choice of storytelling technique is not unconventional: this choice has a history which makes it more of a corporate tradition than a challenge to conventions. Black Sheep’s film from last year, Exes Baggage, despite not having any substantial aesthetic or narrative ambitions, plays with the same non-linear narrative perhaps more successfully than Alone/Together.

From this point, Alone/Together looks like an uninterested attempt to recreate Exes Baggage’s form. Uninterested in the sense that it does the non-linear track of storytelling more as a chore – despite calling attention to it – that its intended unpredictability and complexity crumbles. This results in the film’s most important scenes to perform tautologically. Take, for example, Tin and Raf’s first secret date after meeting again at an award ceremony. Before going to the designated place where they are supposed to meet, a flashback of the confrontation between the foundation officials and Tin over the corruption case and her break up with Raf was shown. Back to the present, as Raf arrives and sits beside her, then Tin mouthed off everything that’s happened to her life. It is as if the film cannot even trust its own flashbacks that it needs Tin to repeat the scenes in her lines.

Of course, Raf needs some context. And what happened to Tin is the context he needs. However, Alone/Together is not really interested in making itself interesting. Its choice of cinematic form to expose this very crucial event is very straightforward, but not to the film’s benefit. It’s doing what it should be doing, again, as a chore: and like most chores, it was done with a sense of boredom.

Perhaps, Alone/Together’s boredom of its own task as a film – that is, to make its own cinematic techniques as sensually pleasing as possible – is the very attitude its supposed conflict between youthful idealism and “matured realism” has reached.  It’s a narrative of setbacks and what-ifs. And these what-ifs are trapped at a time in the past that the film is trying hard to get back to. From this set up, you can also get this sense of immaturity in the film’s aesthetic decisions. Despite having a veteran cinematographer like Neil Daza or acclaimed sound designer Michael Idioma on board, the film still looks and sounds as if it was done as an end-of-term class project. Something that you can get, for example, from that scene of the couples’ breakup where it was shot still and flat with a three-camera setup. The frame looks small for every action that it becomes less dramatic than it is awkward. Not unsettling, just plain awkward.

(Note: In the defense of class projects, I’m not saying that they are bad in general, but what I’m noting here is that the quality of work done in Alone/Together is not at par with what one would expect in an industrially produced work. Take the handling of the scenes in Exes Baggage for example, which I think was done in similar, if not, smaller production scale than this film, but has produced more impressive results, at least in mise en scene. If you try to get a look at the specific scene I mentioned above, it’s not even a “subversive” or “poetic” take, it just looks as if it was done lazily which produced its awkwardness. Whether or not this retrogression of quality in the industrial film production scale is a symptom of something is of another issue.)

If the film was done intelligent enough to be self-conscious of its “immaturity”, editing should have followed through and intentionally “missed” at some point. But the film’s editing seems to be the only one which at least had some consideration to be “mature” with its commitment to non-linear storytelling. This is where the form reached its penultimate conflict which it never gets to resolve: the uncompromising editing was done with heavily mishandled frames and sounds.

And then, there’s the narrative content. The non-linear storytelling, in practice, demands multiple complicated plots, which most of the time comes from multiple sources. Alone/Together, unfortunately, only had a unilateral source of plot which makes its choice of storytelling (that is to say, the film itself) ineffective in its delivery. This unilaterality, of course, points to Tin as the sole bearer of truth and the supposed subject of audience empathy. However, the film exerts very little effort to justify this choice. The film, like Tin, seems to lack the courage to commit to its own stand. In the end, during the confrontation between Raf and Tin in one of the last scenes which was set in New York, the two present their own case on why one is either a coward or brave. They never really even tried to resolve this. After all there really isn’t any contradiction. Raf’s notion of cowardice (that Tin never really tried to do the right thing when the situation arose) and Tin’s notion of courage (that is, the courage to admit her own cowardice) are on the same side of the coin. The film is just too cowardly to admit that it is.

This cowardice, after all, is also its exercise in boredom. Arguing and proving a point is tiring, like most struggles. While it is just to empathize with what Tin went through, the film’s careless handling of the material, which never commits to any kind of resolution whether in form or content, makes it hard to even take Tin’s case seriously. Of course, except with the non-linear storytelling, which again, never really helped to give any kind of justice to Tin’s case. It is not because Tin’s case isn’t a grave matter, but the film’s choice of form does not seem to take its own material seriously.

These attempts for novelty, exacerbated by formal cowardice, boredom and inattentiveness, gave way to the film narrative’s own retrogression. The conclusion Alone/Together set for itself brings Tin into a certain limbo of trying to regain one’s self without any form of salvation. She is, after all, admittedly a coward to regain even her own innocence. She proceeded bearing the unnecessary guilt which became her own oedipal trap: that is, an entrapment in victimization and its reproduction. Since the film does not really take Tin’s salvage seriously, at the very least, as a piece of tokenism, you may want to focus on the other things it would like to present. The idealized culture of the State University being featured, its “progressive” instructors with their “subversive” lectures, the flash protests, the festivities, and the sceneries which the film so eagerly wants to sell more than it tries to make sense of itself.

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